I’m in two minds about writing a post about grammatical errors. I know I have a few pet peeves when it comes to grammar pitfalls. But I’m also loath to turn myself into the grammar police or become a grammar Nazi.
But there are some common grammatical mistakes that I’m seeing a lot of that I think we need to spend some time fixing. If only so we can become better understood. This is not about your ‘voice’ or some archaic grammatical errors that only old school convent nuns teaching English would rap your knuckles over. I like to think of these grammar faux pas as the low hanging fruit.
These grammatical pet peeves of mine are not ones that native English speakers should be making. And I’m not trying to be harsh. You’ll see when I’m done. I think most of these are either because we’re getting lazy or we just don’t care. Neither of which is a valid reason to flaunt English grammar rules.
I enjoy writing that is informative, casual and personable. This is not about taking away your voice and tone. Neither is this about the more ethereal grammatical rules that I no doubt break on a daily basis. I’m not going to argue about the validity of split infinitives (mostly I think they’re fine), nor will we discuss other such grammatical minutiae such as whether a colon, semicolon or comma is the appropriate choice. I’m not a grammar fundamentalist but neither would I say I’m a grammar heathen. I’m generally grammatically agnostic. The most important aspect of using good grammar, and note I didn’t say correct grammar, is to be understood.
Besides, grammar rules change over time anyway. But right now, these are my top annoying grammatical issues that I really think we should fix, and which we can easily fix.
1. Your vs. You’re (You are)
I practically gave away the answer in the heading. This grammar error is so common I can almost confidently say that you’re wrong when you use your.
Your is a possessive pronoun. What does that mean, it means it implies ownership. It needs to be attached to something concrete like an object, you know, a noun. So you can say: Can I take a ride in your car, or your piano playing is freaking awesome.
You’re is a contraction of two words: You and are. That means they’re Siamese twins, they have to go together. When you use you’re, you are really using you are. So you can say: You’re terrific to let me take a ride in your car, or you’re an amazing piano player. See the difference?
Here’s an easy tip. If you’re uncertain which of the two (your or you’re) to use, then put ‘you are’ in place of ‘your/you’re’. If it sounds right then you can use ‘you’re’ or ‘you are’. If it doesn’t sound right then use ‘your’.
Example: Your the most amazing person who doesn’t make grammatical mistakes. Try putting you are in place of your in the previous sentence. Does it work? Let’s see. You are the most amazing person who doesn’t make grammatical mistakes. You can tell it works right, it sounds natural. So in this case you are or you’re is the correct word.
Let’s try another example. How about this sentence: Your aftershave smells so amazing. Let’s try and put in you are in place of your and see if it works. You are aftershave smells so amazing. Umm no, doesn’t sound or smell very amazing at all does it? So in this case your is the right choice and NOT you are or you’re. Capiche?
2. I am vs. am
This is one of the worst ones for me. It really gets under my skin. You’ve probably seen it all over the internet. It goes something like this. I don’t know if I told you but I’ve been really tired lately and am about ready to sleep.
It sounds like crap. It’s lazy writing and it shouldn’t be allowed. Why drop the pronoun I before the verb to be (am) in the above sentence. Why? Because you’re just lazy. This sentence should be: I don’t know if I told you but I’ve been really tired lately and I am about ready to sleep.
Now I’m not even sure if this is actually incorrect from a grammar perspective. But it should be. At the very least it is lazy writing. And if you’re that lazy with your writing you’ll be more prone to being misunderstood. Don’t do it. It doesn’t sound cute, avant-garde, clever or correct. Don’t be a grammar douche.
3. Loose vs. lose
This is another common mistake I see in grammar usage, and an easy one to fix. Loose (with the double ‘o’) which is an adjective means not firmly fixed in place, not tight or snug. Lose is a verb and means to be deprived of or cease to retain something.
You lose your pants or you lose a watch, but your watch can be loose on your wrist and your pants can be loose on your waist. Understand?
Here’s how I remember it. Loose with the double ‘o’ is a longer word than lose with a single ‘o’. If I try to put on a pair of jeans that has a longer waist than I’m used to, they’ll fall down because they’re loose, with the double ‘o’. In other words. Loose is longer and therefore not as tight as lose!
There are other grammatical problems that we come across from time to time like their vs. there vs. they’re. They’re is a contraction of ‘they are’. There means to point at something over there, and their is the possessive form of they. In other words their hands are in their mittens. And their mittens were over there before they put them on. Now that their hands are in their mittens which used to be over there they’re nice and warm.
It’s vs. its is also reasonably common. You’re probably starting to see a pattern now. It’s is the contraction of ‘it is’. Its is the possessive form of ‘it’. So you can say this about the dog Rover: It’s a dachshund and its paw is brown. As with the other possessive forms like ‘you’re’ and ‘they’re’, if you try to put in ‘you are’ or ‘they are’ or ‘it is’ in place of ‘your’, ‘their’/’there’ and ‘its’ respectively it’ll help you figure out if you’ve got the right word.
If you can manage to fix these top 5 grammar mistakes that most people are making, you’ll be better understood and become a better writer than 80% of the folks out there.